Book Review: ‘Play Like A Pirate’

About Jake Miller

Mr. Jake Miller teaches 7th grade American history teacher near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

I recently met teacher and author Quinn Rollins at the National Council for the Social Studies Conference earlier this month, and the session he led was on incorporating graphic novels into the classroom (you can read more about it in the link above). I’d be interested in teaching with graphic novels since Jeff Kinney’s first Diary of a Wimpy Kid. At his session,  Rollins gave away plenty of free books, including 2 of his own – Play Like a Pirate. He intrigued me in purchasing his book, partly because I enjoyed Dave Burgess’s book Teach Like A Pirate, party because of his humility regarding his book (“you should pick up any of these other books, because they’re better than mine.”)

When I returned home, I pulled the book out of the box, and the first thing I noticed was it’s intensely small size; I thought, “Oh no – not one of these books that could be an Educator’s Room article again” (I’ve been routinely surprised at how many authors increase the font size to turn something as long as this article into a book. At least they don’t change the font to Courier New.)

Yet, when I started reading this book, I was fully engrossed in its content. Beginning with a quote from Burgess (whom I didn’t know was the publisher of the book), Rollins reminds us that we should “be able to sell tickets to our lessons.” The next 143 pages provides some great ideas in how he brought his passion into the classroom. This includes the following ideas:

  • Making fun apply to the content we teach
  • Keeping the fun burning like a slow fire
  • Making the activities versatile
  • Trying out everything first
  • Using toys we grew up with – which includes Rollins’s rubber duckie

The book is separated into 3 sections: toys, games, and superheroes, graphic novels, and comic strips. Let’s explore some of the content in each of the areas:

TOYS

In the toys section, Rollins teaches us how to use action figures, Transformers, Hot Wheels, Barbies, Play-Doh, The Smurfs, and LEGO bricks in the classroom. I particularly enjoyed the section on Transformers, thinking about what Andrew Jackson would transform into if he were one of these great toys. Would he be a bulldozer, clearing the land of the Creek, Cherokee, Chickisaw, Choctaw, and Seminole tribes? Would he be a gun, saving New Orleans from defeat? Would he be a dollar sign, as the only President of the United States to eliminate the national debt? I also think there are other great ideas like how to create scenes with LEGOs, which, unlike politics, is the great American uniter that spans generations and crosses bridges of divided opinions. Best of all, the use of toys has QR codes that we can snap on our phone to see how his students have already used toys in his classroom. This part alone is worth the price of the book, but I see myself incorporating just about any of these ideas in my classroom immediately.

What kind of Transformer would Andrew Jackson be? Click To Tweet

 

GAMES

A new focus on school has been the Project-Based Learning module. Rollins goes a step further in instructing us how to gamify our classrooms. This includes fun teacher-led activities (some that will ring a bell from our own pasts), but also on board games that students can use or make, and ways to use Minecraft in class – yes, kids still love this; and, yes, it can be very educational. I also really enjoy the portion on trading cards, where Rollins teaches us how to have trading cards like we use to collect in the past, or how to morph them into cards with powers like Magic! The Gathering.

 

SUPERHEROES, GRAPHIC NOVELS, and COMIC STRIPS

The last section of the book is on how cartoons can be used in the classroom. While I’ve already learned about how to incorporate more graphic novels into the curriculum, I really enjoyed the component on superheroes. In elementary classrooms, students can create a superhero for what our the principles in our society. It also helps children discuss the composition (and flaws) of a hero and, conversely, a villain – and whether they walk the Greek “hero’s journey.”

Lastly, I like how Rollins turns the camera backwards as a sense of reflection, noting what lessons are discussed (or ignored) throughout 20th and 21st century in comic books. Lastly, the idea to have the students create their own class comic book is one of the best projects I’ve read in a while, whereby each child in the class is responsible for one page. The uses and cross-curricular application of this ingenuous idea are almost limitless.

 

RANDOM QUOTES

If I were to find only one area that is “needs improvement” in the book, I’d say that the book is filled with a bunch of random quotes that don’t really apply to the lesson. I take this as Rollins exposing his fun and goofy side, but, for me at least, they were distracting as I had images of incorporating his so many wonderful lessons into practice.

 

FINAL ASSESSMENT:

Though this is a very quick read (I read it between officiating wrestling matches), the limited pages scratch the surface of unlimited ideas. Remember what it was like to use your imagination and play as a kid? I didn’t either until I picked up this book. Adulting is a roadblock to one of the greatest things that American schools have over our competing nations – our national creativity. And if you teach high school and think this isn’t for you, think again. Our AP Calc teacher at our high school runs her class on the value of star stickers, and her kids earn 4’s and 5’s on their test with ease.

Adulting is a roadblock to our national creativity Click To Tweet

In an era of testing and data, this book should be on every elementary, social studies, science, ELA, and even math teacher’s bookshelves – and be referenced often. For that reason, I give this book a solid A rating on my report card.

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About the Author:

Mr. Jake Miller teaches 7th grade American history teacher near Harrisburg, PA. He is the 2016 National History Day Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year and a 2017 NEA Teacher of Excellence. His articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, and several other periodicals, but Miller has called TER home since 2012.

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